Thursday, October 20, 2016

Enrollment Booms and Gender Diversity: How do we Keep History from Repeating Itself?

The pipeline of underrepresented groups in STEM fields is a subject near and dear to my heart.  I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for UMBC and the support I had to push me to be the best I can be.  Without the Meyerhoff Scholars Program I would not have found any role models that looked like me.  So, I thought I knew this subject backwards and forwards.

Jennifer Sabourin, Eric Roberts, Jane Stout and Tiffany Barnes opened my eyes to another challenge in recruiting and keeping women and other underrepresented groups in Computer Science.  The bust and boom of the technology industry leads to environments where supply and demand get off balance.  If there are too many resources not enough jobs, such as the dotcom bust, the industry becomes elitist and misogynistic pushing women out.  Conversely, if there are not enough resources too many jobs, the marketing becomes "even you can work on computers" and starts inviting women.

Previously, I am aware that sometimes there are lots of jobs technology and sometimes it is harder to find jobs (I was part of a layoff back in 2002).  What completely caught me off guard is how universities have to manage their capacities as a result of this fluctuation in students seeking computer science degrees.  There are a finite number of people qualified to teach Computer Science.  When the number of students applying to Computer Science departments the capacity a University can handle hits a brick wall.  The next thing you know the programs get very competitive in order to get a spot.  Historically, caps are introduced to weed out the applicants to programs are biased against women AND minorities AND people from disadvantaged neighborhoods.  The caps may be based on test scores or  they stop allowing students to transfer in from other departments or the branding becomes elitist which leads to women thinking they are not qualified enough to apply to those programs.

My main takeaways from each of the panelists are:

Roberts: Think about diversity when designing how to handle capacity so that women will not be discouraged to apply.  Also, encourage women to go to graduate school so we have more educators to fulfill the capacity and to be role models.
Stout: Diverse leadership breeds diverse workforce. More women are needed in the leadership role.
Barnes: Everyone should be taught Computer Science and as technologist we should explain to people why you love your job and how it relates to the "real world"

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